Fannin Excited As AU Wraps Up Practice

Senior running back Mario Fannin talks about being the starter for the Tigers at running back and discusses the running game as the Tigers prepare for their season opener.

Auburn, Ala.--Entering the 2010 season opener with Arkansas State this Saturday night, one of the biggest questions surrounding the Auburn Tigers is in the running game.

Replacing Ben Tate after he rushed for 1,362 yards and 10 touchdowns in 2009, the Tigers will send a trio of backs into the mix hoping to pick up where they left off last year.

Leading the charge is senior Mario Fannin. Playing mostly wide receiver last season, Fannin was still third on the team in rushing with 285 yards and averaged a whopping 8.4 yards per carry.

Coming in expecting to be a tailback full-time, Fannin has bounced back and forth between running back and wide receiver since his freshman season. Now a tailback for good and with one last chance to show what he can do, the 228-pounder said he's excited about the possibilities.

"It's a good feeling being able to get ready to suit up for your senior season and be at the position you've wanted to play since you got here," Fannin said. "Now is the time to show somebody you can fill that position.

"A lot of great players have come through here and played that position," he said. "Now it's your time to show not just your teammates but your Auburn family that you can play it. It's going to be a fun challenge. I can't wait to get started."

A speedy true freshman last season, Onterio McCalebb was one of the major reasons why Auburn's offense was so explosive early in the year. He ran for 565 yards and four touchdowns in 11 games with much of that coming in the first five games before being slowed by injury. Now up nearly 20 pounds and much more physical, McCalebb should bring a punch to the Auburn offense this season.

Michael Dyer

The third weapon at tailback is true freshman Michael Dyer. The all-time leading rusher in Arkansas high school history, the 5-9, 216 Dyer is a sparkplug on offense who is tough for the first man to get down because of his power and balance. Fannin said all three should help make it a fun year for the Tigers on the ground.

"I feel like we can be as good as we want to be," Fannin said. "We have great depth at the running back position. Coach (Curtis) Luper is a great coach and we have a great offensive line. I feel like our biggest enemy is us, being able to hold onto the ball and finishing runs well. I feel as long as we stay humble and keep working hard in practice that we'll be able to do some great things for our team."

During spring practice Luper was asked if he thought Fannin would get the job done and he said he believed Fannin would top the 1,000-yard mark in 2010. When asked what he thought of reaching the mark, Fannin said everything the Tigers have done on the field this preseason point towards it being a good year for the running game on the Plains.

"It's very possible," Fannin said. "Coach Luper is a great coach and him saying that just shows he has that trust in me. I have a great offensive line. They are going to work the best way they can in order for that to happen.

"My success really goes to the offensive line and the coaches. That's something I understand. I have O (McCalebb) and Mike behind me. Sometimes they'll lead the way and I'll follow them. Just having them in the competition is going to make us all better. I can't wait to get started."

Fannin and his teammates wrapped up their on the field preparations on Thursday evening with a light workout in shorts at the football complex as the Tigers rehearsed their game plans on offense and defense.

Coach Gene Chizik said the Tigers had a "great" practice, up from "good" after Wednesday's session. The Tigers will head out of town on Friday evening and return on Saturday afternoon for their first Tiger Walk of the season at approximately 4 p.m. CDT and pre-game warmup

Chizik said his team is tired of practicing and hitting each other and is ready to play its first game. Kickoff is set for 6 p.m. CDT on Saturday at Jordan-Hare Stadium. Tickets are available to the contest which will be televised on Fox Sports South.

Saturday's game will be just the second ever meeting on a football field between Arkansas State and the Tigers. Auburn won 27-0 in 2006.

The weather forecast looks promising with the temperature expected to be around 80 degrees at kickoff with the possibility of it dropping into the high 60s by the end of the game. The forecast high for Saturday in Auburn is 85 degrees.


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